Bill Peet Critical Essays


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In gentle, uncluttered prose, Peet examines the significant memories of his life. Piece by piece, the memories fit together to show the basis from which his later work emerged. His grandfather’s farm, for example, reappeared in Chester the Worldly Pig (1965), and his fascination with the circuses that came to town was the basis for Randy’s Dandy Lions (1964). Playing in a nearby river as a child, Peet also gained insight into the way in which nature works and how people endanger the environment. This early concern became the basis for The Wump World (1970). His interest in trains led him to paint one when he decided to make a living as an artist and later to the creation of the character of “Smokey,” the little switch engine. Farms, circus animals, and trains are recurring themes in Peet’s children’s books.

Peet calls his old textbooks the first books he illustrated for children because, instead of studying, he filled the margins with drawings, which later made them highly desirable collector’s items. He also has a happy way of putting words together. His careful choice of words can be seen in his description of Towser, “that rambunctious Huck Finn of a dog” stifled by belonging to “a family of old people.”

Peet recounts the traumatic events in his life briefly and without emotion. He tells about his absentee father simply, explaining that his brief returns home caused violent fights over money. When his father received money from his mother, he left again and would not return until he needed more. The stormy episodes between Peet’s parents caused his grandmother to retreat to her room after the evening meal. One afternoon, the family members heard her last anguished call, ran to her room, and found her dying of a heart attack. According to Peet,...

(The entire section is 745 words.)